The ultimate guide to Elite Dangerous exploration
If you're an experienced pilot that knows his/her way around the galaxy, feel free to skip the introductions onto the “Let’s make some money” section below pointing you to a huge neutron star field… On the other hand – if you're just starting with Elite and exploration – read on!
Ok, so first things first – before you even think of doing anything, you'll need a decent exploration ship. Even though you can go exploring in pretty much any ship ingame – some are obviously better suited for the job than the others. There are a lot of things to take into consideration like ship size, fuel tank size, stock jump range, the number of internal compartments and so on… But, to make things simple – you can find several ships with custom tailored exploration fits below that you can use to push yourself into the void without the worry of being stuck somewhere, as long as you keep your eye on your fuel tank and any scoopable stars around you. To easily memorize star types you can actually get fuel from just remember KGB FOAM or “Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me” where each first letter represents a star class.
How to fit ships for exploration
Now, what you need to know is how to fit your ship properly. Once you get out of the habitable space there's literally nothing that can harm you except yourself. So – explorers usually fit the lightest modules they can find to max out the ship jumprange. That means full D-class modules except the FSD and the power plant.
A-class FSD is a must for obvious reasons, and you should take an A-class power plant but make it a smaller module size if possible. The pure power output is not that important since you'll be using like 50-60% of it anyway… So just make sure you have enough to power your modules – no need to spend money on things you won’t be using. A-class power plants are tougher and take less heat damage once you come close to the star to scoop fuel. That means you can stand there longer and not overheat – and therefore, not take any damage.
When it comes to your internal modules – get the best fuel scoop you can afford. They don't weight a thing, they don't impact your jump range, so a higher class will save you time on refuelling. However – if you're tight on budget, there's nothing wrong with taking a lower class fuel scoop. Some fuel scoop sizes give you only a couple of seconds faster scooping and usually cost double in price so in that case just go with the cheaper one and don't worry about it.
Now – when I said nothing can hurt you out there except yourself, I wasn't kidding. Chances you bump into a pirate a few thousand lightyears out of the bubble are literally zero. Instead of pirates and players wanting to pewpew you down – you will be jumping into a lot of star systems, and if you lack the focus while jumping into a system with neutron stars, black holes, white dwarves or even regular stars… your ship can take quite some damage.
The key to successful exploration is awareness. Just take a look around the star map and see what type of stars surround you. That way you'll ensure that you can always hop out of your plotted route and scoop some fuel if you keep jumping into systems with dead stars (remember KGB FOAM?), but it will also give you an idea what type of jump exit you can expect.
For example – jumping into a system with a black hole or a neutron star will give you literally just a fraction of a second to come to a full stop – otherwise, you'll be pulled out of supercruise and your ship will take damage. If that wasn't enough – you will most probably overheat when you try to jump out of the system while being so close to the star unless you have heat sink launchers fitted. And this is where we come to actual ship fitting.
What I usually aim for is the longest jump range paired with decent fuel efficiency and repair modules. So the first ship of choice would be an awesome little ship perfect for the starter explorers – The Hauler aka El Cheap-o exploro. This fit is just shy of 4 million credits and makes a perfect setup for your first journey. You can make it even cheaper by swapping out the fuel scoop for a lower class one, and you won't even lose that much time for refuelling. With a jump range of 25.81 lightyears with a full tank – you will be covering good distances with each of your jumps.
Unfortunately the Hauler is very limited when it comes to internal compartments and it has a small fuel tank so you won’t have any shields with this fit or room for a buggy unless you get rid of your repair module.
Next step up is the Adder. sitting at 4.3 million credits. It’s pretty much the exact same fit as the Hauler’s but it gives you an option to juggle around your buggy hangar, shields and repair modules since you get an extra internal compartment and gives you extra fuel storage.
This ship wouldn’t be the best small multipurpose ship if it wasn’t good for exploration aswell – The Cobra is our next ship of choice which will cost you around 8 million credits. It Offers everything the previous models offer but throws in good shielding, repairs, a buggy hangar and still pushes you just over 25 lightyears per jump. Have in mind, you can get this ship fitted for a lot less credits (4.6 million) if you use a lower class fuel scoop and repair modules.
Finally, it’s time to bite into exploration ships boasting with huge jump ranges. The first dedicated explorer is the Diamondback Explorer aka The space bee, which will cost you around 13 million credits if you opt for the best fuel scoop and repairs or 9.3 million if you take the cheaper versions. This ship will be able to take you over 33 lightyears per jump!
The favourite ship of choice for most explorers is actually the Asp Explorer. It’s not a pretty ship, I have to admit… it’s more like a flying space pancake but it has a beautiful unobstructed glass cockpit just made for looking at shiny stuff around you while you’re exploring deep space. Fits for the Asp Explorer can get a bit pricy if you opt out for best modules, but honestly – I just stick with lower class modules because the benefit of a few seconds while scooping is not that important. So expect anything between 14 and 45 million credits.
Exploration fit for a king
Since we covered all the dedicated ships, the only thing left is the super-luxurious class. The Imperial Clipper for example is an awesome way to cruise the galaxy in style. It’s one of the best looking ships ingame and it will surely make all your screenshots look amazing with its flowing stylish design and huge spread wings. This Imperial Clipper fit will cost you 33.7 million credits and take you out 25.4 lightyears per jump. If you opt for the best modules available, the Imperial Clipper can easily cost you over 140 million credits.
If you prefer even bigger, bulkier ships with huge obstructed cockpit views – the Anaconda is the way to go. The cheaper fit will dig a hole 150.9 million credits deep in your pocket, and taking more buggies with a better fuel scoop with you will cost you a wooping 263.7 million credits. The good thing about the Anaconda is her jump range. Even though it’s a huge ship – those big engines can easily push you out for over 36 lightyears per jump!
And finally – the crown jewel of the imperial fleet, and the most beautiful ship currently available – The Imperial Cutter. Even though the jump range is nowhere near the range of the Anaconda or any of the dedicated explorers – you will be flying the most luxurious ship available to players to date! The fit cost can vary by a lot depending on what you take with you since the Cutter is packed with internal compartments so expect anything from 250 to over 585 million credits!
Exploring and scanning
After you chose, buy and fit the ship of your choice it’s finally time to head out and explore! Have in mind that exploration in Elite is… well – monotonous (I don’t want to say boring). So before you think – “Hey! Let’s go visit Sag A*”, I strongly suggest you take it slow, and give it a shot on a much closer range. Take your ship out for a spin around the bubble or to a nearby nebula. Just a few thousand lightyears out will boost your exploration rank and give you a lot of undiscovered systems to put your name on. Also – you will get the feel for long-time jumping and see if you can handle the loneliness of empty space for a long period of time. If you actually decide to take a long trip – stock up on good music or TV series you can watch/listen to while you’re on your journey.
So – What do you want to scan? At first – scan everything except rock/ice moons and asteroid belts. Those are not worth your time at all. After a while you’ll most probably get bored of scanning everything and just stick to Earth-like planets, Water worlds, Gas giants, and high metal content planets. But what gives you credits are actual neutron stars, white dwarves and black holes.
Even though they can appear anywhere, chances you find them close to human space is very low, and you will need to go out more than 10,000 lightyears to find a decent field of neutron stars.
To make rare stars more obvious untick all the boxes in the star-class filter on your map and leave only the last 2 – white dwarf stars and non sequence stars since those will give you the biggest payout.
What you need to be careful about is exiting your jump once you hop into such systems. As mentioned previous – you only get a second to come to a full stop before you get pulled out of supercruise and take damage. So I suggest you bind your “Set speed to 0%” action to a key that is easily accessible on your keyboard or game controller.
To make things faster – once you jump into a new system, hit your D-scan immediately, select the star in front of you and scan it. At the same time, slow down in scoop range (if the star is scoopable) so you get fresh fuel. That way you’ll be doing several things at the same time which maximizes your efficiency. After the D-scan is done, check your system map for interesting locations and planets. I usually scan everything in 1000 Ls range and go even further if it’s something worth a visit like a Water world or an Earth like planet.
Let’s make some money!
If you made it through your first few thousand lightyears – congratulations! And if you still feel the exploration itch it’s time to get serious. What you want to find is a huge neutron star field and just farm it until you have enough for your wanted exploration rank. Each neutron star will net you 40,000-50,000 Credits and they are usually surrounded by several scoopable stars so you can keep scanning them as long as you want without running out of fuel.
Open up your map and find a system named Clookie UO-Z D13-22. It’s a start of a HUGE field of neutron stars that are just waiting to be explored. The actual trail of neutrons starts even sooner – around 1000 lightyears prior to Clookie sector (I just love the name), so you can follow the trail of those before you hit the jackpot.
Once inside the neutron star field – feel free to turn in whatever direction you want because there’s almost no end to them all the way to the core of the galaxy!
Just remember to check your fuel tank regularly!
Making money - the easy way
Update 6/2017 - With the update to exploration payouts, it has become very profitable to scan Earth-like planets just like water worlds. Luckily, CMDR VicTic/SchmicTic made a list that takes you around 300 of such planets. The best part is the fact all of the systems on the list are only a few hundred light-years away from the bubble which makes the route very accessible to everyone - even brand new accounts.
For extra convenience, Alpha Orbital provides a handy companion tool called Pathfinder which lists all the systems on the "Road to riches" and gives you an easy way of tracking visited systems.
Help, I messed up!
No matter how careful an explorer is - it's always possible to end up stranded thousands of lightyears away from home with potential millions in your scan data, but without any fuel to continue your journey or to get back. If that happens to you - just keep calm and don't panic. Why? Because there's an amazing part of Elite community just dedicated to saving such commanders that end up dead in the water.
They go by the name of Fuel Rats, and they are your key to a safe return. All you have to do is contact them, ask nicely for help and one of their members will rush to your aid bringing lots of fuel along so you can continue on merrily.
Fly safe commanders o7